Posted on April 20 2020
I was well on my way down an Instagram rabbit hole when I stopped in my tracks. I came across a profile called positive.results.us. The profile was beautiful, but above all, the content was IMPORTANT.
We all know herpes is prevalent yet it still carries a huge stigma. Which also means, we don’t talk about it. Well, Rae is. And she’s providing inspiration that anyone with HSV needs to hear. Hearing you’re HSV-2 positive can feel devastating and knowing how to deal with it is difficult. Fortunately, there’s someone here to remind you it’s not the end of world (or your sex life).
How long ago did you find out you had HSV-2? I was diagnosed with genital HSV-2 in April 2016 (this week actually marks 4 years of living with herpes!)
What was your initial reaction? At first, I didn't know what to think. My initial outbreak wasn't anything like the outbreaks that are commonly pictured on the internet or shown in sex ed classes...so I thought it was a bacterial infection. When a blood test confirmed that I had contracted herpes–my world got really dark, really fast. Suddenly, I felt buried beneath feelings of shame, regret, and fear. I couldn't believe this was happening to me and I felt very alone in all of it.
How has your sex life changed? To be honest, my sex life only improved after contracting genital herpes. Having HSV forced me to get really comfortable talking about sexual health, informed consent, and safer sex practices. By disclosing my status, I set the tone for open and honest conversations around sex with partners- making it easier to talk about topics like boundaries and desire. Contracting herpes also made it essential to practice safer sex–I never knew the pleasures of barrier methods (like internal condoms and dental dams) before my diagnosis! I had to make some minor adjustments, but honestly-those were things I really wanted for myself anyways. Right? Firm boundaries, honest conversations with sexual partners, safer sex practices... Not to mention, me getting over the stigma of contracting HSV helped to dismantle layers and layers of other internalized stigma. Shedding that stigma allowed me to explore my sexuality free of shame or self-judgement. Herpes rocked my world. At first it was the worst thing that ever happened to me and four years later, I wouldn't change it for anything.
It’s amazing you’re doing what you’re doing. What made you decide to speak out and help others? Wow, thank you! Well- when I was diagnosed, I couldn't find any resources out there for babes like me who were trying to navigate casual sex and dating while living with HSV. After meeting other H+ babes looking for the same kind of support- I decided to become the resource I was looking for. It started with an Instagram that provided positive affirmations ...but I quickly realized that wasn't going to be enough. Slowly, I started to show face and share my name, getting more and more comfortable voicing my truth (and feeling more and more empowered each time I did!) In July of 2018, I started to host a local support group for other H+ babes in Austin, TX. The connections I made within that special group of women was the catalyst for creating a larger community rooted in the same intention. That's when the Online Sisterhood was born and Positive Results evolved into so much more than an inspirational Instagram.
Tell us about your educational background. I've been a registered nurse for almost 8 years! I graduated with my nursing degree in 2012 from my local community college and in 2016 I obtained my Bachelor's of Science in Nursing from Northern University of Arizona. (It's truly disappointing how little they teach medical/nursing students about non-reproductive health!) By 2018, the individual work I was doing around HSV seemed worth sharing with H+ folks who were looking for support. So I decided to enroll in the Institute of Sexuality Education and Enlightenment to become a certified sex educator. Now I'm just a few weeks away from finishing my program, although I doubt it's the end of my educational journey! I love being a student and there is ALWAYS more to learn about the human body and sexuality!
If you were able to dispel one preconceived notion what would it be? Herpes is not the end of the world. It really isn't. You can still date, have casual sex, deliver a baby, and live a completely normal life while being HSV+. Physically, we don't suffer much from living with herpes- we have to endure uncomfortable outbreaks and difficult conversations, but otherwise, herpes is pretty manageable! What H+ folks suffer from is the stigma that comes with the diagnosis. Once you can move beyond that, having herpes isn't so hard.
What types of services and support do you provide at Positive Results? Thanks for asking! I offer a free monthly support group online, lead in-person workshops, and I offer individual support calls for babes who are looking for a little extra guidance. During these sessions I answer questions, provide resources, and connect community members with one another (oftentimes in there own area so that they can have a real-life resource nearby!) After holding this kind of space for the last 2 years, I've realized that there is a big need for more tangible resources (after a herpes diagnosis, folks receive little, if any, support from their healthcare providers) so I've recently started to develop some downloadable resources for my HSV+ community, including how to perform a vulvar self-exam and my guide to disclosing a positive status! The future definitely holds the creation of more resources like these!
What’s the most commonly asked question by your clients? "Will anyone ever want me again?" My answer- YES , YES, YES! The STI stigma runs deep! So many individuals believe that once they contract an STI (especially an incurable one, like HSV) they are damaged goods. They cannot begin to fathom that someone would accept them as they are - diagnosis and all. Fortunately, HSV isn't always a deal breaker! As humans, we have a really bad habit of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions-, often letting fear steer our imagination. This leaves us expecting the worst. I know when I was first diagnosed, I thought my chances of ever finding a partner were slim! But I've had far more people accept me than reject me (only one person in the past 4 years of public and private disclosures!) Herpes has a magical little way of weeding out the people who don't belong in your life. If someone can't accept this small piece of who you are, good riddance! They are simply clearing space for someone who will.
Have you found the climate around the topic has changed over the past few years? Absolutely! It could be because I have completely surrounded myself with sex-positive and body-positive social media accounts, colleagues within the sexuality field, and some extremely supportive peers... but I have noticed a major shift in the climate around STI's and stigma. TV shows like The Bold Type and Adam Ruins Everything are normalizing HSV, sex educators and instagram influencers are normalizing conversations around informed consent and STI testing, and companies like Lorals, Nurx, and Momotaro are normalizing sexual health and self-care! It tickles me to see SO many new HSV+ accounts, support groups, and resources popping up too! It just goes to show that the stigmatization of these topics is finally starting to crumble! And I feel so grateful to be a part of it!
Is there anything that you want to share with someone reading this that might need to hear? You are not worth less because you've contracted HSV. You are not unworthy of love or pleasure. You are not destined to be alone! You have the power to write your own story, babe. Don't let contracting herpes be the end of it! Let it be the beginning of a whole new chapter. YOU get to decide what happens next- you can either choose to be another victim to stigma or you can choose to be one of the bad ass babes who are saying, "fuck the stigma, watch me thrive!"
There’s plenty of great content on her website and Instagram page so find out answers to your questions like how to use a dental dam, how to manage an outbreak, where can I find or create support, what are some of Rae's favorite vulva/herpes-friendly products to use, what medications/supplements are available for HSV management, how to shut down a herpes joke, and so so much more!